Opinion: Halfway to 2015 – three bits of advice for new Lib Dem Federal Party Committees

The beginning of 2013 not only marks the start of the second half of the Coalition, but also the start of the newly elected Federal Committees. Here is some advice for the three crucial ones, Federal Policy Committee (FPC), Federal Conference Committee (FCC) and Federal Executive (FE).

For FPC: Radical policy is required for 2015
Common sense says the 2015 manifesto should play it safe, yet common sense is often wrong.

A study of policy positions in party manifestos since 1971 in Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK shows: Parties in Government who adopt relatively extreme ideological positions do better at election time.

The crucial thing is relative to whom? The theory, if correct, would suggest relative to the voters you are seeking to target. Read the study to find out why, but in short, voters know governing involves compromise and so overselling to your supporters helps to reaffirm the direction of travel.

Interestingly for Labour, the same study shows that opposition parties who adopt relatively extreme ideological positions lose voter support. After all, as an opposition party “they would say that wouldn’t they?”

Where should FPC start? Well to really get the juices flowing, I would recommend reading Really Facing the Future by David Boyle and Simon Titley.

For FE (or more appropriately the separate Campaigns and Communications Committee): The why is more important than the what

While manifestos and policy positions are great, it is even more crucial for these to be put in context. Why should people care that we are doing x? Most of us have an answer to that question, but that is the answer for ‘us’ and, let’s be honest, your average Lib Dem member has a different priority of motivations to most of the public.

Why? Because it helps us to reach out to new voters. This, in my mind, was the failure of the 12 Days of Christmas campaign; it was presented with no context,

Mark Pack reminded us last week of the need to undestand the concept of framing. This is important, as we start to increase our level of conversation with the public. Understanding individual values and the unmet needs and motivations behind them is important if we are to get our vision across to a wider audience. This should also include a move away from outdated segmentation strategies based on ‘demographics’.

For FCC: Shout, shout, let it all out
Governing is rarely about the manifesto, even less so as we move into the second half of the Coalition. As members we need to up our game and use Conference to make it clear when we feel a decision the Government is taking goes against Lib Dem values.

Federal Conference Committee can play a crucial role in this, by making sure conference has plenty of time to debate and vote on contentious areas of Government policy.

Such action would give our MPs greater clout to demand reform of legislation giving our leader the opportunity to say ‘I can’t deliver my backbenchers on this one’ (as used by David Cameron)

As I see it, two crucial tests are coming up – secret courts and shares for rights.

On secret courts the ante has well and truly been upped since the Autumn Conference via the excellent campaign being run by Jo Shaw, Martin Tod and Charlotte Henry.

Shares for rights is another crucial test, an absurd policy which undermines the long-held liberal principle of employee ownership, a policy which businesses do not even want and which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will encourage tax avoidance.

So there you have it. Three things to help concentrate the mind of the new Federal Committees. Happy 2013 everyone!

* Chris Richards was a candidate for the London Assembly in May 2012 and is a Lib Dem activist in London. He blogs at www.chrisrichards.org.uk

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  • I’m not sure testicles are what is required. Particularly given the numbers of people possessing them in parliament who are failing to protect our core values.

  • Nigel Jones 8th Jan '13 - 10:42am

    Nick is continuing to give the impression that coalition policies are Lib-Dem policies, so the only hope for telling the public what we really stand for is for the rest of us to shout and shout about it. This must start at party conferences, no matter how much it will embarass our MPs. I also agree with Chris about the need to emphasise our principles (what he calls ideology) and although this has to be illustrated by general policy statements, we should avoid rigid policy detail in our election campaign.
    So far, our federal committees have not had enough people willing to take a stand and be different from our leadership. Will the new committees have the insight and guts to do so ?
    It’s not a matter of loyalty, it is a matter of doing what Nick Clegg is unable to do, i.e. tell the public that most of the coalition decisions are not Lib-Dem decisions and do not represent what we really stand for but are inevitable compromises. There are some, such as Chris mentions, that we should expect our MPs to vote against and we should say so, even if that is disloyal to them, while being loyal to our party.

  • Nigel Jones 8th Jan ’13 – 10:42am………….Nick is continuing to give the impression that coalition policies are Lib-Dem policies, so the only hope for telling the public what we really stand for is for the rest of us to shout and shout about it. This must start at party conferences, no matter how much it will embarass our MPs………….

    I don’t expect them to be embarrassed (remember the NHS debacle?). No matter what is said at conference, media coverage is limited and, with Laws, Clegg, Alexander and Farron constantly ‘playing down’ any divisions, the general public may be excused for believing their line.
    IMO the only way to drive home our core view is for a resignation or removal of ‘one at the top’….

  • @Simon – my point was that the ownership of not of testicles is no indication of courage, political or otherwise.

  • @Simon – my point was that the ownership or not of testicles is no indication of courage, political or otherwise.

  • @Jo Shaw, I agree with you, which is why I thought it was bizarre when the idea was floated a few weeks ago, that there were few women in frontline politics because women can’t deal with conflict.

  • Richard Dean 8th Jan '13 - 8:37pm

    What has sex got to do with this discussion?

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